Unconditional Praise (J.M. Green)

December 2, 2008

Thank you for the gifts my pretty angels.
Thank you for a wonderful Father’s Day.
Thank you, Pumpkin, for the tie you purchased
With your allowance. You helped clean dishes
And gathered clippings from the flower beds.
I watched you store half your coins in a porcelain
Pig because you want to go to college.
And the other half, you saved for my tie.
I’m so proud of you. And thank you, Sweet Pea,
For the other tie. You found it
Buried deep in my closet as you scrounged
For something else. You wrapped it with duct tape
And newspaper all by yourself. I like
It better now than when Grandma gave it
To me. I’m so proud of you. And thank you,
My Little Pistol, for the fish. We live
Nowhere near water, and yet, on my lap
Is a dead fish. What magnificent stripes.
And the scales are so shiny. I’m going
To get that chain you gave me for Christmas,
The one you found in the neighbors’ backyard
Hooked to their dog, and I’m going to wear
My fish on casual Friday. I’m proud
Of you too. I’m so proud of all of you.


I lifted this from the latest Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, and Light Industrial Safety. I’m not familiar with J.M. Green’s other poems, but I liked this one because of the strange balance he establishes and maintains between irony and praise. One cannot read this without immediately sensing a tonal irony. Poems just aren’t written with phrases like “my pretty angels.” But there is also a whimsical quality to this, a kind of baffled praise running through the poem–the affectionate names he gives to his children, keen memories of Father’s Days past, the almost foolish appreciation (if you allow it) for the fish, dead, but with “magnificent stripes.” The fish and the little phrase “casual Friday,” I think, provide a doorway outside of irony. A dead fish is a gift only a “Little Pistol” could think of. And it is the speaker’s appreciation for such madness in his youngest that he is able to respond with his equally mad intentions for Friday’s work attire. This regression from tie to worse tie to dead fish, commensurate with each progressively younger child’s capacity to give gifts, perhaps fixes praise securely within the home where among his pretty angels “unconditional patience” holds sway, while the subtle phrase “casual Friday” locks irony outside it in the dead-fish world of corporate Fridays.

One Response to “Unconditional Praise (J.M. Green)”

  1. I like the change in direction that begins with wrapping the re-gifted tie in duct tape and newspaper: We’re leaving behind the white picket fenced in family and getting to a darker, closed door feeling: American Beauty.

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